Saravudh Sarrtsud, affectionately known as Chef Tom, has learned to live in the present.
Struggling with stage 4 lung cancer, Sarrtsud and his wife, Laddavan, made the painful decision to close Ladda Bistro in downtown Macon following his unexpected diagnosis in March.
The couple ran the popular Thai restaurant at 442 Cherry St. with their daughter, Jiin Sarrtsud.
They are currently selling assets including restaurant equipment and furnishings as well as a rental house and their former Ladda Thai location, both to Warner Robins.
The move allows the family to spend more time together, strengthen their financial situation by liquidating assets and the cares and worries that come with them, and Sarrtsud to focus on their health.
One day at a time
Bangkok-born Sarrtsud, who turned 60 in May, said he is now taking life day by day.
“I try to do the best I can,” said Sarrtsud, who is currently undergoing immunotherapy. “In the morning, I walk around the neighborhood to go there, and I don’t think about it too much. I learn to separate a little – between everyday life and my illness – and not to assemble.
He remains positive.
“As I tell people, people are getting their lives taken away without warning,” Sarrtsud said. “A lot of people have accidents. No matter what, they don’t stand a chance.
“I have a chance to fight for my life. I will do my best to fight every day.
Talking with others with similar health issues has helped.
Sarrtsud also believes his decision two years ago to improve his lifestyle by exercising and changing his diet has prepared him for what he now faces.
He quit eating fried foods, cut carbs, and lost 35 pounds. As a result, he no longer needs to take blood pressure medication.
“What I try to do every day is not worry about what can happen,” Sarrtsud said. “I don’t dream too big. But whatever happens, I take it.
Nor does it dwell on the past.
“People say, ‘You have lung cancer, have you smoked?’ I smoked when I was 18. You want me to go back and fix it? It doesn’t matter anyway.
When he first received the diagnosis, Sarrtsud said he was seized with fear. But as he learned to live in the moment, those feelings slipped away.
“These feelings of fear… I remember the day I was told you had terminal lung cancer and I don’t know how long you have… That feeling never happens (now ),” Sarrtsud said.
He works to control his emotions.
“I don’t let myself get mad… If I’m mad at you right now, you don’t feel it,” he said. “I feel everything because I’m mad at you.
“So I’m not getting upset. It’s wasting my time getting angry with people.
Become a cook
When he was 25, Sarrtsud’s mother, who immigrated to the United States before him, returned to Thailand and brought him to New York.
He lived in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, for about 13 years.
“When I was in New York, I started working in a small restaurant,” Sarrtsud said. “Then I worked in a 5-star hotel – learning to prepare a person, learning to cook – from the bottom up, that’s where I learned to be a chef.”
In January 1984, he and Laddavan were married. They had met years earlier in Thailand and later reconnected.
They have three children. Their two daughters were born in New York before the family moved to Warner Robins in 2002. Their son was born here.
Wanting a change of pace, Sarrtsud said he wanted to live in a smaller town. Her father had served in the Royal Thai Air Force in Thailand. Living near Robins Air Force Base felt “closer to home.”
In 2003, he and his wife opened and operated Ladda Thai at 1746 Watson Blvd. in Warner Robins. They closed this restaurant in 2010 after their business partner opened Lemongrass at 442 Cherry St. in downtown Macon in 2009.
In 2015 their business partner decided to do something different and they took full ownership and changed the name to Ladda Bistro. They celebrated the grand opening of Ladda Bistro in December 2016 with a redesigned dining room that can accommodate more people.
The restaurant is located next to the Macon Theater.
A family business
His wife, Laddavan, is the accomplished Thai chef – having learned to cook traditional Thai dishes when she was young from her grandparents and parents.
She came with all their restaurant recipes.
Sarrtsud is trained as an international chef, capable of making all kinds of dishes on demand.
“We worked together,” Sarrtsud said. “She comes up with all the recipes and the dishes, and then I make a commercial look of it.”
Their daughter, Jiin, was in charge of the restaurant’s storefront. She greeted and served customers, answered the phone, that sort of thing.
“The biggest part of our restaurant was that we cooked like we were going to eat it,” she said. “I feel like some places Americanize their food. But my parents were very keen on it being consistent and eating it.
But Ladda Bistro wasn’t just known for its authentic Thai cuisine.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the restaurant offered a buffet of French toast, chicken and waffles, and “all sorts of different things.”
“People loved it,” Sarrtsud said. “Our brunch was like crazy every weekend.”
Sarrtsud still works for the Houston County Board of Education which serves food to students when school is in session. He took sick leave before school ended for the summer.
Their eldest daughter, Rati Zoller, also works in Houston County Schools Food Service and lives in Kathleen.
Their son, Madhee Sarrtsud, a member of the US Army Reserve, lives in Savannah.
“Now we stay together at home and my sisters, my children sometimes come and spend time together,” Sarrtsud said. “A big supportive family – more family love.”
It has also seen an outpouring of support from the community.
“Someone set up a GoFundMe account for me and I get a lot of help from this fund. I have many people who call me and support me.
Jiin Sarrtsud is also learning to live in the present.
She works at a friend of the family’s Thai and sushi restaurant, KIN.D96, at 1057 Ga. 96 in Warner Robins, to keep her mind focused and give her a sense of normalcy.
“I take it day to day just because that’s all I can do,” she said. “I mean, these days we don’t know what to expect in the future and we can’t just sit here and dwell on it.
“We just have to live each day as they come and continue to make memories and make the most of what we have. I feel like some days are harder than others, but that’s with everyone. You just gotta keep pushing.